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Social Networking: What are the guidelines?

October 2010 -- The Department of Defense has opened its computer network to allow access to Social Networking Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, stating these new internet-based capabilities are integral to operations across the DOD. Though social networking sites have been defined as critical means of communication and collaboration throughout the DOD, allowing access to sites also poses very real security threats.

We now fight wars on multiple fronts; one of which is the information front. Joint Doctrine states, "Information is an instrument of national power and has complex components with no single center of control. Information itself is a strategic resource vital to national
security and allows communicators to shape the information battlefield."

Consequently, the Air Force needs to turn all of its Airmen into communicators who combat negative influence of enemy propaganda, misinformation and misrepresentation. Airmen should note that anytime they engage in social media, they are representing the Air Force, and should not do anything that will discredit themselves or the Air Force.

"In general, the Air Force and the 180th FW views personal web sites and blogs positively, and respects the rights of Airmen to use them as a medium
of self-expression," said Col. Mark E. Bartman, 180th Fighter Wing commander.
"Even if Airmen state they are not representing the Air Force or the ANG, other audiences may not interpret the information that way."

Armed with the proper knowledge and understanding of these capabilities combined with an understanding of your role, personally and professionally as users of these sites, both on and off duty, will help to make the use of social networking sites powerful communication tools for the 180th Fighter Wing, the Air Force and the DOD.

Now that we all have access to these sites here at work and at home, it is critical that we understand our personal roles and responsibilities, both on and off duty.

"The lines between a Guard member's personal and professional life are often blurred," said Mr. Jack Harrison, director of public affairs for the National Guard Bureau. "They must also be mindful of the content not related to the National Guard that they post."

Many of us in the guard have said at one time or another, "I'm not active duty; I can do what I want when my duty day is done." Though that may be partially true, our family, friends, fans and followers on our personal social networking pages all know that we are members of the military and our actions can and will impact their views of the military, the 180th FW and possibly their views and opinions of us as well.

It is important to understand that first and foremost, you are an ambassador for the 180th Fighter Wing. You represent the 180th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard and the Air Force 24-hours a day, on or off duty, in uniform or in civilian clothes.

We all want to share our stories, experiences and photos of the latest deployments we have been on, whether it's an AEF rotation, a stateside Snowbird exercise, or an inspection. Our friends, family members and other followers want to know about these things, and they want to hear it from us directly and we should feel free to tell them. We just need to keep a few basic guidelines in mind when sharing these stories.

Operations and information security are key and should always be considered first when posting anything on social networking sites. It is our job to safeguard information that could impact the safety of our unit members and impact the effectiveness of our missions.

We are all entitled to our own thoughts and opinions and should feel free and comfortable to voice them, even in a virtual realm, but we must do so responsibly. Our personal opinions may be shared, but make it clear that your opinions are your opinions and that they do not reflect the opinions of the 180th FW, the ANG or the AF.

If you are getting ready to post something that you wouldn't say to your mom or your boss, you might not want to post it at all. Your boss or supervisor may not be one of your Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but may be friends with a co-worker with whom you are also friends. People talk, so be smart, professional and respectful with what you post, even on your personal pages. Stay in your lane. Talk about what you know. Just because you are a member of the 180th FW, does not mean that you are a subject matter expert in all areas of the unit. If you are an aircraft mechanic, feel free to share information about what you do, you are the SME. As an aircraft mechanic, you are not a SME for the medical career field, so don't talk like you are.

When in doubt about something you want to post or something that someone else has posted relating to the 180th FW or the military in general, check with your local public affairs office for guidance.

Now that we can hop onto our computers here in our work areas and check out the latest posts, update your own status or even post important information for other unit members during the duty day, keep in mind, that even though you have access to your Facebook page here at work, the Department of Defense is watching. The Air Force is utilizing a security system called Host Based Security System, known as HBSS, to gather data and monitor internet surfing patters. This system can monitor and track internet site usage directly to each individual user.

Though this system can "see" how often and how long you visit these sites, it cannot "see" what you are posting. You are ultimately and individually responsible and accountable for what you post.

As much as you are personally accountable for what you post, you are professionally responsible for ensuring the communication of important timely information to your guardsmen and co-workers, especially for those who are traditional members.

Have you ever tried to reach another guardsman via email or voicemail, but fail to receive a response? Try sending a quick 140 character or less message to your guardsmen on Twitter or Facebook and see how quickly the responses come pouring in.

As Air Force professionals, it is up to us to "integrate, leverage and use these new capabilities to our advantage," said Col. Michael McDonald, commander of the Air National Guard Readiness Center. "The reality is our people are already using these sites today, at work, on their personal digital assistants."

Sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, combined with the ever evolving smart phones often results in immediate, real-time communication between users.

Smart phones have become a kind of life line in our culture, much like these social networking sites. Put them together and you have the newest, most powerful communication and collaboration tools at your fingertips, both as the information sender and as the receiver.

Take advantage of the tools at hand, either from a computer in your office or from you smart phone to enhance communication with your unit members, whether you Facebook them, send them a Tweet or even manage a section specific Facebook page for your section.

Again, there are some basic guidelines that we all need to keep in mind, much like when we post on our personal sites.

When you are posting as a member of the 180th FW for the sole purpose of communicating with other unit members, their families or the community, you are representing the unit directly and must keep INFOSEC and OPSEC in mind as well as remain professional and respectful.

You can speak as the voice of your section, but you are not the voice for the 180th. If you have information that you would like to get out to the entire unit, contact your local public affairs office for assistance and approval of the information.

Special section pages, such as a Facebook Group Page, can be a great way to share information and ideas or to keep in touch with traditional members. If you choose to setup and manage a special page for your section, you must contact public affairs for assistance in getting the site approved by the wing commander and registered with the Air Force. The public affairs office will also provide you with the rules of engagement for managing a section specific page.

"The rules of the game have clearly changed," said Bartman. "As Airmen and warriors we can enjoy our freedoms and at the same time ensure we are not helping out the bad guys track our vulnerabilities. Please follow the "Top 10 Tips for New Media.""

1. DON'T GIVE CLASSIFIED INFO
Don't divulge classified, FOUO or sensitive materials, photos or video. OPSEC is crucial
to our mission, think before you speak or film--if you're not sure, ask someone! A harmless video of an Airman dancing on the flightline could be sensitive if it's a deployed environment showing bombers on the flightline.
Be smart. Security is at the source.

2. STAY IN YOUR LANE
If you're an aircraft mechanic, you're well suited to communicate messages about aircraft maintenance. If you're an aircraft mechanic blogging about legal issues--reconsider your blog.

3. DON'T LIE
Credibility is critical, without it, no one cares what you have to say...it's also punishable by the UCMJ to give a false statement.

4. GIVE YOUR OPINION
Yes, tell them what YOU think...just make sure you state that this is your opinion and not that of the organization. Also, be sure to identify what is your opinion and what is factual.

5. ALWAYS IDENTIFY YOURSELF
Identification makes your post more credible.

6. SAFETY
Videos that get widespread attention, or become "viral," feature death-defying stunts or acts that are considered "extreme" in nature. Don't let the desire to get your message
across compromiseyour consideration for safety.

7. BE AWARE OF THE IMAGE YOU PRESENT
If using a visual medium, don't let your message get overshadowed because the viewer's attention is drawn to your improperly worn uniform or something occurring in the background. The image you present will set the tone for your message and often mean the difference of whether or not people listen to your message. Your tactical representation could have strategic and international consequences for the Air Force and the nation.

8. USE COMMON SENSE 
This is the bottom line. If you wouldn't say it in front of your mother, you probably shouldn't say it on YouTube. Realize that your words and images will go out to thousands and possibly millions of people around the world instantly and once it's out there, it's out there for good. Your unit Public Affairs shop should always be a source of advice and guidance in this medium. Also, be careful what personal information you divulge, such as address, phone numbers or any information that could aid identity thieves or the enemy.

9. DON'T BE AFRAID TO TAKE CALCULATED RISKS
Military life often deals in ambiguity: In order to make the best decision, it's recommended to take in as many variables as possible in order to make the most accurate decision.

10. THE ENEMY IS ENGAGED
The enemy is engaged in this battlespace and you must engage there as well.

As you can see, these internet-based capabilities, when used properly can greatly impact the communication and collaboration within the 180th FW. However, used improperly, they can have a negative impact on our productivity at work, our safety and security and our image, personally, professionally
and as a unit as a whole.

As ambassadors for the 180th FW, let's use these tools to our advantage. Use them properly to share important information with our unit members. Use them to communicate with our family members, friends and our local communities. Let's all work together to share the 180th Fighter Wing story in the most professional way we can.
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